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The Sofis were a mystical sect which greatly prevailed in Eastern countries, and especially in Persia, whose religious faith was supposed by most writers to embody the secret doctrine of Mohammedanism. Sir John Malcolm ( History of Persia, chapter xx) says that they have among them great numbers of the wisest and ablest men of the East, and since his time the sect has largely increased.
The name is most probably derived from the Greek wisdom; and Malcolm states that they also bore the name of philosaufs, in which we may readily detect the word philosophers. He says also: "The Mohammedan Sofis have endeavored to connect their mystic faith with the doctrine of their prophet, who, they assert, was himself an accomplished Sofi."
The principal Sofi writers are familiar with the opinions of Aristotle and Plato, and their most important works abound with quotations from the latter. Sir John Malcolm compares the school of Sofism with that of Pythagoras. It is evident that there is a great similarity between Sofism and Gnosticism, and all the features of the biofic initiation remind us very forcibly of those of the Masonic 'the object of the system is the attainment of Truth; and the novice is invited "to embark on the sea of doubt," that is, to commence his investigations, which are to end in its discovery. There are four stages or degrees of initiation: the first is merely preliminary, and the initiate is required to observe the ordinary rites and ceremonies of religion for the sake of the vulgar, who do not understand their esoteric meaning. In the Second Degree he is said to enter the pale of Sofism, and exchanges these external rites for a spiritual worship.
The Third Degree is that of Wisdom, and he who reaches it is supposed to have attained supernatural knowledge, and to be equal to the angels. The Fourth and last degree is called Truth, for he has now reached it, and has become completely united with Deity. They have, says Malcolm, secrets and mysteries in every stage or degree which are never revealed to the profane, and to reveal which would be a crime of the deepest turpitude.
The tenets of the sect, so far as they are made known to the world, are, according to Sir William Jones (Asiatic Researches ii, page 62), "that nothing exists absolutely but God; that the human soul is an emanation of His essence, and, though divided for a time from its heavenly source, will be finally reunited with it; that the highest possible happiness will arise from its reunion; and that the chief good of mankind in this transitory world consists in as perfect a union with the Eternal Spirit as the incumbrance of a mortal frame will allow." It is evident that an investigation of the true system of these Eastern mysteries must be an interesting subject of inquiry to the student of Freemasonry; for Godfrey Higgins is hardly too enthusiastic in supposing them to be the ancient Freemasons of Mohammedanism.
His views are thus expressed in the second volume of his Anacalypsis (page 301): a wonderful work--wonderful for the vast and varied learning that it exhibits; but still more so for the bold and strange theories which, however untenable, are defended with all the powers of a more than ordinary intellect. "The circumstances," he says, "of the gradation of ranks, the initiation, and the head of the Order in Persia being called Grand Master, raise a presumption that the Sofia were, in reality, the Order of Masons."
Without subscribing at once to the theory of Godfrey Higgins, we may well be surprised at the coincidences existing between the customs and the dogmas of the Sofis and those of the Freemasons, and we would naturally be curious to investigate the uses of the close communication which existed at various times during the Crusades between this Mohammedan sect of philosophers and the Christian Order of Templars. C. W. King, in his learned treatise on the Gnostics, seems to entertain a similar idea of this connection between the Templars and the Sofis.
He says that, Inasmuch as these Sofis were composed exclusively of the learned amongst the Persians and Syrians, and learning at that time meant little more than a proficiency in medicine and astrology, the two points that brought the Eastern sages into amicable contact with their barbarous invaders from the West, it is easy to see how the latter may have imbibed the secret doctrines simultaneously with the science of those who were their instructors in all matters pertaining to science and art.
The Sofi doctrine involved the grand idea of one universal creed, which could be secretly held under any profession of an outward faith: and in fact took virtually the same view of religious systems as that in which the ancient philosophers had regarded such matters.
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